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Caracas, Tuesday January 04 , 2005  
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Michael Rowan
Special for El Universal

The government political strategy to reduce institutional corruption announced in December is a welcome sign of good intentions that unfortunately cannot be implemented. Stung by international measures of corruption that put Venezuela among the most flagrantly corrupt places on earth, and domestic charges of corruption by political insiders, the government will appoint more prosecutors to weed out corruption. But the system in place is protected against detection except in the most obvious and exposed instances. The government may be sensitized to the problem of corruption, but not its solution.

Official corruption is encouraged when the system provides monopoly, discretion and secrecy for those who handle power and money transactions. The ultimate causes of the RECADI and banking scandals of the past were directly traceable to the system of monopoly control, full discretion, and secrecy in government financial transactions. While everything was illegal in those scandals, the system encouraged individuals to thwart the letter and spirit of the law from day one. In previous governments, there was a lot of hand-wringing about moral corruption, which was not caused by having dishonest people in government - there are dishonest people in all governments - but by having a system that gave great incentives and protections to dishonest officials in powerful places.

The Chavez government is now going through the same process and coming up with the same moral non-solution of the past: find the dishonest officials and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. This is, in effect, a warning that produces the following thought in the head of a corrupt official: "I must be exceedingly careful in using my power and discretion to enrich myself and my friends, and in covering my tracks, or else I'm going to get in real trouble." Corruption cannot be reduced only by appointing good prosecutors, no matter how diligent they are. Corruption is reduced by institutionalizing independent checks and balances in the ministries, monopolies and enterprises of government, reducing the discretion of individual actors with great power, and eliminating secrecy altogether. Corruption is a function of the system, not the people who use it.

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